Counter-Print x Instagram

We were recently asked by the team at Facebook/Instagram to be featured on their excellent Instagram account @curatedbyfb. They were interested in how we use Instagram to showcase our books and how we curate our feed.

In classic fashion, the whole thing was distilled into a few lines of copy, so I thought it might be of interest to publish the full piece here. It might be appreciated by anyone running an online store or those wanting to sell through Instagram.

Here it is…

Counter-Print is an online store selling books, stationery and lifestyle products for the creative community. We started by selling vintage art and design books and have gradually expanded our product range over the years to include almost everything a creative-minded person might want to fill their home with. However, our main focus and passion has always been that of books. We started our careers in the world of graphic design, so we still edit, write, design and publish our own books on design and illustration, which we sell through the store. Although we are most known for our own titles, we also stock books on every genre – from cookery to business, wellbeing to children’s titles.

Our curation process is somewhat instinctive but if I were to try and define or distill what we do, it is to inspire people to be creative. One of my favourite things in life is to be recommended books, movies or exhibitions that other people feel I might enjoy. I think this sense of cultural discovery comes from an art school background, where the process of sharing inspiration is built into the course. I loved going in with a project and the tutors asking if I’d heard of this designer or that artistic movement. This sharing of inspiration is key to the success of Counter-Print and something that has obviously been amplified by the growth of Instagram and other social platforms over the past few years.

Our Instagram feed primarily consists of the products we sell on our site. Books are beautiful objects, so they make a great feed. Our love for reading and a designer’s eye helps us pick and curate the best titles in each field – with around 15 to 20 titles added to the site each week. All of these are shot on our iPhones for the Instagram feed which, although they are all books, gives the feed an unpredictably due to the varied genres we stock and the way we shoot them. We also encourage our readers to post the books they purchase from our store on Instagram and love to regram these. Using the photography of others also gives an unpredictability to the feed and hopefully shows a happy and contented customer. Above all, it’s just heart-warming for us to see our books in their new homes – being loved and appreciated.

Over the years we’ve seen a correlation with our increased following on Instagram and the sales in our store. We’ve been running Counter-Print for over ten years. It started as a side project – a labour of love – but I don’t think it was until we married it with a social media presence that it actually became a viable business – to the point at which it is now a full time job.

Our site is configured for direct selling through Instagram which is obviously a handy feature. However, we don’t try and sell too heavily on the platform or at least we don’t try and hit customers over the head with it. I think our audience are now aware that everything on our Insta feed is available to purchase on our store or via ‘tap to purchase’ but over the years we have found that customers are a little turned off by being ‘sold to’. They can see your intent. People are on social media to, well… socialise. They don’t want to be told what to do, have products pushed upon them or see photos that look like adverts. As such, we try to treat @counterprintbooks like a personal feed… which it is. The company consists of a core team of my wife and I, so we can add personal descriptions and photograph the products in our home, which adds to a relaxed, personal feel.

We use the feed to tell people about exhibitions taking place, to explain the role of the designers behind classic pieces, to share the favourite books of other designers, to run competitions or show behind the scenes stuff in regards to the running of the studio. If they think what we do is cool and they decide to purchase something then that’s great but it’s not everything. I think we would still be running an iteration of Counter-Print, just for fun, even if we didn’t need to make a living from it. Hopefully, above all else, our Instagram feed shows a love for what we do.

Another great new feature of Instagram, which has really helped us, is IGTV. It allows us to be able to flick through the whole book – giving the audience a far better understanding of its content than a few photos would. As we specialise in art and design related books, this is particularly helpful as they are often very visual. We then use stories to help repost images and funny gifs of customer’s receiving their books, to post behind the scenes clips and videos, show products that are back in stock or little details that amuse us.

Aside from this we also try to set aside time to use Instagram as anyone else would – commenting or leaving advice on book-related posts, with suggestions for other reading material people might like. The whole experience of Counter-Print on Instagram, as I said before, is a way of recreating that wonderful, creative bubble that we felt at University as students.

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